Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1079: Portugal. The Man

I didn’t sleep great last night and I’ve had a bit of bad news of late as well. Fortunately, the Odyssey supplied me with a record designed to lighten my mood.

Disc 1079 is…Woodstock
Artist: Portugal. The Man

Yes, that period in the title is not a typo. How silly. So silly, that I decided to see if there was some compelling reason why they ended up with this name. Here’s what I found on Wikipedia:

“The band's name is based on the idea of David Bowie's "bigger than life" fame. They wanted the band to have a bigger than life feel but didn't want to name it after one of their members. "A country is a group of people," guitar player and vocalist John Gourley explains. "With Portugal, it just ended up being the first country that came to mind. The band's name is 'Portugal'. The period is stating that, and 'The Man' states that it's just one person." The name has more personal meaning as well: Portugal. The Man was going to be the name of a book that Gourley had planned to write about his father and his many adventures.”

Nope – that is a silly reason after all. The effort to twist it into multiple reasons (including a gratuitous appeal to authority through invoking Bowie) just makes it all the more forced and awkward.

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? A Rolls Royce burns away merrily. I find this cover strangely beautiful but maybe that’s just because I’m not much of a Rolls Royce fan.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this album and decided to check it out. I was surprised to find I liked it.

How It Stacks Up:  Portugal. The Man have eight studio albums but I’ve only got this one so it can’t really stack up.

Ratings: 3 stars

Look at me, everyone: I’ve got some radio friendly pop in my collection! Don’t panic, though, I wasn’t listening to the radio. As noted above, this was just me reading a review and investigating from there.

The quintessence of success for radio friendly pop is a bona fide hit, and “Woodstock” has one in “Feel it Still.” This song is a sing-a-long earworm that is compelling as hell, and likely the reason I first took an interest in the album. “Feel It Still” checks off all the boxes, with a danceable back beat, a catchy hook, an appeal to shared experience (they pay homage to 1966 and 1986 in the chorus) and a bunch of slick production that keeps your ear interested as the song basically explores more and more ways to dress up the same catchy hook. It would’ve made me mad but damn, that’s a catchy hook.

All the songs on “Woodstock” are catchy, particularly “Rich Friends” which ticks all the boxes that “Feel It Still” ticks, and should’ve been their next single. Instead they went with “Live in the Moment”, a song for the “drunk and swaying” portion of a night out. It’s OK, but it doesn’t have the empty/ironic enthusiasm of “Rich Friends”.

This album was a crash course for me in the inner workings of Hitsville USA, and how to make one. There are lots of handclaps – because who doesn’t love handclaps? When there aren’t handclaps there is well-placed percussion that sounds an awful lot like handclaps. Feel free to clap along when listening – it’s fun!

The drums and bass dominate the mix, so it is easy to shake your booty in time to the beat, and that’s fun too. Alternatively you can be a melody dancer like me, and sway along to lead singer John Gourley’s vocals while artfully extending your arms in various directions. Gourley sings high and effortless, like a slightly more indie Adam Levine that you can admit you like and not feel old.

Gourley’s vocals are powerful and alluring and he has a great talent for phrasing. He slips right into a pocket that accentuates the beats rather than competing with them. This being radio-friendly pop, these vocals are subjected to every effect ever dreamed up on a soundboard: echoes, squawk box, distortion, and reverb are all present to name just a few. Ordinarily this would drive me nuts, but Portugal. The Man (sic) does it so well I found myself just grooving along and having a good time.

Did I learn a lot from this record? Not really. “Woodstock” is about as good as radio pop gets, but unfortunately here on the CD Odyssey that can only rate it 3 stars. Nevertheless, it’s a good time, the songs are thoughtfully constructed and there are no horrifying clunkers. It’s a good record to put on before you head out to an event where there’ll be a bunch of people you don’t know (I just did this a few weeks ago) because it gets you up and feeling social. Hell, you might even hear it when you get there; that “Feel It Still” song is everywhere lately. Even here.

Best tracks: Easy Tiger, Feel It Still, Rich Friends, Tidal Wave

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